The 10 Most Spectacular Artworks at Frieze New York 2017
From the art to the prices, there's plenty to marvel at in this year's fair.
The Frieze Art Fair has once again alighted on the fair isle of Manhattan—or Randall’s Island, to be precise—bringing with it enough international contemporary artworks to fill a passel of pashas’s palaces. What’s good this year? We surveyed the aisles to isolate some of the most remarkable works being offered by the world’s top galleries.
Deanna Lawson in the Lionel Hamptons, 2016
Blum & Poe (Los Angeles)
Henry Taylor (b. 1958) and Deana Lawson (b. 1979), two rising-star artists who share a dynamite room in the current Whitney Biennial, also happen to be old friends, and that comes across crystal-clearly in this portrait. Why? For one thing, Lawson, sitting on a country patio in a loosely rendered sundress, has an expression that’s full of life and closely observed—she just thought of something hilarious that maybe she shouldn’t say, and she’s about to say it. For another thing, the title seems to be a very funny inside joke: these two African-American artists aren’t hanging out in the Hamptons, they’re in the Lionel Hamptons. Ha. These two must have a good time together.
Eykyn Maclean (New York)
Price: $10 million
“I make no distinction between poetry and painting,” Miró once said, and this painting, made when the artist was 73 years old (the same year he created his famous Moonbird public sculpture), gives you an idea of what he means. Read the canvas: the shapes are slant-rhymes (are those hats, is that a spermatozoa, are those faces?), the dots provide rhythm, the meaning is exuberant but elusive. Of course, there is a distinction in that, unlike poetry, this painting doesn’t come cheap. It may be the most expensive artwork in the fair.
Primo Calle/ROCI VENEZUELA, 1985
Venus Over Manhattan (New York)
Price: $3.75 million
In 1985, Robert Rauschenberg embarked on one of the most audacious projects of his life: the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, an idealistic attempt to knit the world’s cultures together by traveling to 10 different countries, embedding himself in each for a long enough time to pick up the local texture, and then making a body of paintings transmuting each country’s national identity into art. The project, abbreviated as ROCI (the name, incidentally, of Rauschenberg’s pet turtle), also marked the artist’s return to silkscreening after a 21-year hiatus from the process. After completing the series, Rauschenberg debuted it in a museum in that country along with his older work, then gave a major work from the series to the museum and another one to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which held an exhibition of the overall ROCI project when it was completed.
Today, most of the other works remain in the Rauschenberg estate—except for this gargantuan painting at Venus Over Manhattan’s booth. Made in 1985, it’s the largest painting the artist made in Venezuela, and it long resided in the collection of Donald Saff, the artistic director of the ROCI project. Look at it closely and you’ll see construction sites, a picture of Pope John Paul II (who visited Venezuela for the first time in 1985), a chicken roasting over an open fire, and other elements Rauschenberg associated with the country. At nearly 18 feet long, it provides a tantalizing glimpse of the untold treasures from the artist’s colossal output that will be discovered when his MoMA retrospective opens later this month.
Securing a Motherland Should Have Been Sufficient, 2016
Sikkema Jenkins (New York)
A towering figure of American art due to her silhouetted nightmarescapes that confront the viewer with the poisonous legacy of slavery, Kara Walker was never much one for drawing-qua-drawing until she received a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome that came with an expansive studio on the Janiculum Hill, inspiring her to put huge sheets of paper up on the walls and attack them with graphite. This triptych drawing, which was a highlight of her recent Cleveland Museum of Art show, shows the kind of scale that she’s gravitating towards. Rendered in graphite lumber marker, it also mines her familiar theme with a scene of psychic trauma, anchored in history: slaves building the ship that will ferry them into bondage.
Solitude of the Earth, 1994
Victoria Miro (London)
Yayoi Kusama is the toast of the nation’s capital, currently, with crowds of visitors—the hugest crowds in human history, our president might say—lining up to see the survey of her “Infinity Rooms” at the Hirshhorn Museum. For Kusama, the notion of infinity conjures an image of nets (her 2011 autobiography is titled Infinity Nets), and her work across all mediums is often composed of arrangements of dots or nets, which are essentially the same thing, since the matrix around the dots is a net. Anyway! At the fair, Victoria Miro has a table, chairs, fruit basket, and cupboard that are all painted white and draped in white netting, made for a show at the Fuji Art Museum in Tokyo in 1994. This monochrome domestic setting would look perfectly at home in a Kusama “Infinity Room,” and gives you a peek into the way this singular artist sees the world around her.
Matthew Marks (New York)
What’s more American than apple pie? A part of Robert Gober may have emitted a hollow laugh at that notion while making this exquisite sculpture, recreating a dinky little 69-cent cardboard pastry box in copper, slumped glass, and the kind of attentive hand-painting that a master artist can bring to bear. Gober, whose work suggests he sees America as oppressive and Kafkaesque, has made an absurd miniature triumph here, and at the fair Matthew Marks is offering the last remaining from an edition of four.
Esther Schipper (Berlin)
Walk near the performer in this piece by Roman Ondak and he’ll pleasantly call you over, brandish an object—a mini-umbrella, perhaps, or a cosmetics case—as if it was a precious artifact, and ask if you would like to barter something for it, ideally something special. With his good-natured palaver and absurd hard-bargain-driving, it’s a simple enough piece, a fun twist on the mechanics of commerce at an art fair. Although it’s not really so simple. Say you were to buy one of these pieces—how would it work? Well, Ondak has a network of trained performers that he recommends to the collector (or institution, considering that the first two were bought by the Guggenheim and the Frac Franche-Comté, Besançon), though if that’s impractical the artist is happy to hire and train new performers for the piece, sending them preparatory videos he’s created to inculcate the role.
Only… you can’t just use one performer, because it’s a draining performance to do over a long duration, so typically it’s handled by a trio of trained improvisers working on half-hour shifts, each of whom brings a semi-precious object to get the bartering started. As for the table and chair where the performer sits, it has to be very stripped-down and rudimentary, of the kind Ondak would have seen growing up in the former Czechoslovakia.
So, who wants to barter for this artwork?
The Landscape, 2017
David Kordansky Gallery (Los Angeles)
Currently featured in the Whitney Biennial, the Iranian-born artist Tala Madani makes cartoonish paintings that depict bald, heavy, middle-aged men (often in their underwear, like ugly, overgrown babies) navigating a primitive world of aggression, genital-obsession, and fecal-fixation. You know, like babies. This sweeping canvas is of history-painting scale, and it recounts a story that seems plucked from some primordial cave of the psyche, with worshippers pathetically offering poop to a shining, godlike anus. If that’s not spectacle, what is?
David Zwirner Gallery (New York)
An artist whose sculptures revel in the interplay of delicacy and brutality, Carol Bove has recently embarked on a new body of work that takes this pairing in a ravishing new direction. Starting with a chunk of raw, sometimes rusted steel that she finds somewhere—her Brooklyn waterfront studio is a veritable foundry—she marries this to a pristine length of I-beam or another metal construction material that she bends, contorts, and then paints with a colorful powder coating that makes it seem uncannily soft to the eye, like a pillow or piece of clothing. Both ethereal and crude, these sculptures will be debuting on the world stage next week at Bove’s Swiss Pavilion for the Venice Biennale.
Produce X, 2015-16
White Cube (London)
The Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama is still in his late 20s but already has a triumph to his name (one of his giant burlap-bag works covered the Arsenal during the last Venice Biennale), as well as a scandal (he entered a legal battle with Stefan Simchowitz after that collector divided another large burlap piece into numerous “artworks,” leading the artist to brand them as inauthentic). Now, with another triumph coming down the pike as he prepares to debut at documenta 14 in Kassel next month, Mahama is enjoying a hot market moment.
At the fair, White Cube is offering a wall-devouring composition of Islamic prayer rugs and cocoa bags—he “never works smaller,” according to a dealer—that evoke a world distant from Randall’s Island. Collectors will want in, though the gallery says it is more interested in selling to museums.
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